A Dictionary of Modern English Usage
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A Dictionary of Modern English Usage

4.21 of 5 stars 4.21  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  33 reviews
This book is intended for general; students and teachers of English; anyone wanting guidance on the correct use of English.
Paperback, 748 pages
Published May 12th 1983 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1926)
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the first edition of this was published in 1926. written by a genius named Henry Fowler, it is a legendary masterpiece of wit, erudition, and inscrutable insight into how to write well. it has everything - commonly confused pairs, spellings, plurals, and ultranittygritty grammar (EIGHT PAGES on the word "that"). the entries are like little essays, pithy and hilarious, and soooooo old school.

the first ed is great, but suffers a bit as a tool for writing today, so after much humming and hawing, i...more
Nov 23, 2007 Rachel rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: users of english
Shelves: nonfiction
Although I do not find this book truly useful, I do find it amusing.

Here is the part about French words:

Display of superior knowledge is as great a vulgarity as display of superior wealth -- greater indeed, inasmuch as knowledge should tend more definitely than wealth towards discretion and good manners. That is the guiding principle alike in the using and in the pronouncing of French words in English writing and talk. To use French words that your reader or hearer does not understand, to pron...more
4.0 stars. This is on the short list of the best reference books around. It is not accurate to say that I have "read" this entire book but I have been using it fairly extensively since I acquired it in 1991 as part of an 8 volume leather bound set from Easton Press called the "Complete Oxford Reference Set." I have found it to be an excellent reference tool that is both easy to use and comprehensive.

Bob Nichols
This book has a few gems to educate the reader on the history of usage and to correct some common misunderstandings and mistakes. But these are hidden in a mass of detail. The book is plagued with the following defects: (1) too often Fowler takes forever, if ever, to make his point and, even then, his point is not frequently clear;(2)on the issue of clarity, Fowler lapses into his own considerable jargon so that, for example, "'of' is here not partitive but appositional" and it is even now more...more
Fowler's "Modern English Usage" is one of those books that really has no business existing: a reference guide that's fun to read. You could spend hours flipping from entry to entry -- especially since many of the entries make reference to others -- discovering all the mistakes you've been making in your writing over the years. Because H.W. Fowler was incredibly opinionated (check out his stance, for example, on the use of "preface" vs. "foreword"), the book's unique abbreviations take some getti...more
Fowler is truly the most english of englishmen. This is a righteously indignant, uptight, catty look at how language should and shouldn't be used. While the second edition was mildly updated in 1965 by Sir Ernest Gowers, it remains in essence a turn of the century work. Just plain fun to read.
Richard Epstein
A dangerous book to consult. Many, many times I have picked it up to check something specific, only to find out, an instant later, that 30 minutes have passed, and I am still reading. James Patterson should write such riveting prose.
Strunk and White? Never 'eard of 'em. This is my Old Testament and The King's English is my New.
I have to agree with the more erudite reviews already posted: in some ways, this is a 5-star work. In others, it's a write-off.

As a writer myself, I find Fowler to be one of the pre-eminent reference texts. He covers a vast range of words and phrases - from the regularly misused to archaisms which, when they are used, need clarifying - with a wit that often borders on scathing. It's great fun to be searching for a simple definition or clarification, and end up having a good giggle at the same ti...more
Alex Brightsmith
I love this book whole-heartedly.
I won't pretend that with this one work you can leap from ignorance to expert knowledge, but if you already have a fair grasp of good usage, and are willing to have to look up the occasional technical term, this is an invaluable guide to the points you sometimes doubt, or know from practice but have never entirely understood.
The age of this edition is no hindrance in this. I find that on occasions when I need to be absolutely right, what I really need to do is to...more
In this idiosyncratic masterpiece, Fowler dedicated himself to discussing (sometimes pedantically, sometimes whimsically, always insightfully) how and why we use and misuse a few thousand English words, one of which is "one."

Fowler's discussion of "one" goes on for 3+ pages and includes a section on what he calls the "false first-person one," in which "one" uses "one" instead of/in place of "I." In 1944, Fowler noted the presence of the "false first-person one" only in journalism, where "it ena...more
This is one of those reference books you just have to have on your shelf. It contains a wealth of information about how to use English properly, and why. Many subtle aspects are explained in a way that naturally sets this work apart from others. The fact that it has been around for so long stands testimony to its value as a unique language resource.

This is not just another dictionary or thesaurus: it is about more than the mechanics of language. You can delve into this book at random and be sure...more
John E. Branch Jr.
Learned in a way that'll seem arcane to some people nowadays, but for me this is priceless.
It's pretty impractical to try to use this the way you would Chicago or one of the other style guides, but it's a lot of fun to read. Just open it anywhere. I always learn something new about how the language works. (I'm talking around the first edition; I haven't looked at the revisions, so I don't know about those.)
Chip Hennen
A must-read (but not an easy read) reference source for anyone really serious about the rules that govern the construction of modern American English composition. Although no one has the last word in matters involving grammar and word useage, this tome comes close than any other written on the subject.
Mark Singer
From time to time I will read a random selection from this book, and will have two distinct reactions. The first is my amazement at the complexity of the English language. The second reaction is to imagine Fowler, in the voice of Alan Rickman, sneering at my grammatical ineptitude.
Tom Hillman
a wonderful, funny, knowledgeable, opinionated book, for those who love words and language. But beware of the ebook version. It seems to be a poor scan of the text, which no one ever bothered to proofread.
Mirvan  Ereon
Because I love languages and I love learning, I found this book very comprehensive and useful. I like reading it out of fun. I love to browse through its pages and simply know more about English.
Derek (Guilty of thoughtcrime)
Probably my favorite book about the use of English. Fowler/Gowers explain English usage in ways that would make my high school teachers squirm, and validate many of my own biases!
I'm just snooty enough to love this. The reasons behind the rules. Wish there was something around like this today, because language changes so quickly and so do the rules.
One of the wittiest books I have read (it's great bathroom reading), and one of the few textbooks I still have from university twenty years ago.
Luis Salas
The non plus ultra for every English pedant; James, I'm thinking of you, you pedant.

Fowler is intensely snippy and irresistable.
I think this book is the most amazing book in the entire world!!! IF YOU DON'T READ THIS, LIFE'S NOT WORTH LIVING.
Bill Tillman
A used book store is a wonderful thing, I picked up my copy in '70 but it was published in 1950 but is like new!
Certainly seemed to have an influence on DFW, thus it certainly deserves my nod.
Not read it cover to cover. Will continue to dip in from time to time.
Apr 17, 2011 Linda marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: NPR
Shelves: not_in_opl
The library has an older edition, but not this one updated by David Crystal.
Have used Fowler for ages. Still amusing after all these years.
Dec 28, 2008 Elizabeth marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
bought 2008 hard dustjacket frayed book inside good
i cant spell. thank god for dictionaries!
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H.W. Fowler was an English schoolmaster, lexicographer and commentator on the usage of the English language. He is notable for both A Dictionary of Modern English Usage and his work on the Concise Oxford Dictionary, and was described by The Times as "a lexicographical genius".
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